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Issue 225 – August 19, 2010

These are young people of Afghanistan, learning the Scout Oath and Law for the very first time. The American volunteers making this happen are all military or military contractor employees, and this is what they do with their “free time”!

Afghan Scouts

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Captain Glenn Battschinger writes from Jalalabad, Afghanistan: Here’s our weekend project. These boys, age 10-17, are reciting their Scout Oath and Law in Pashtun, their native language. We started with fifty in our first meeting; next week there will be over one hundred. Today we helped them organize themselves into their patrols and elect their Patrol Leaders. We gave each of these boys a three-foot length of “550 cord” (parachute cord) and this—believe it or not—is their official Scout uniform! They all learned to tie the square knot and can do it with their eyes closed. Our plan is to build something they’re never seen before… a monkey bridge!

If you’d like more information about Scouting in Afghanistan and how you might help our volunteers, drop me a line— I’ll see what I can do…

Dear Andy,

I was just reading your August 4th column about more merit badges that will fit on a sash. I agree that two sashes in a bandolier fashion is a bad idea; however, two sashes could still be the way to go… I have a Scout in our troop who has earned 90 merit badges, so he bought two sashes, one 30″ and the other 36″ and sewed them together to make a double-wide sash. Then, using the sash shoulder pin, he can still display his accomplishments and we can still see his smiling face! (Robert Schleich, Scoutmaster, Occoneechee Council, SC)

Congratulations to that motivated Scout! Imagine…he can talk with confidence on some 90 different subjects— That’s huge!

Yes, I’ve seen the double-wide done and, if the young man’s shoulders are broad enough, it can work. But let’s allow that between 60 and 70 merit badges, in rows of three, will fit on the front of a standard 36″ sash, before having to go over the shoulder to the back. Read on…

Dear Andy,

About that question on sewing over 50 merit badges on a sash, both of my sons earned every merit badge available. Using both sides—front and back—of the 36” sash we could get all 126 on it. (Bob Reeder, Grand Columbia Council, WA)

Thanks, and congratulations to your sons!

Hi Andy,

Our troop use to meet in a different building until we outgrew it. We still use it to store some equipment, but the rooms we had used have fallen into disrepair. Our troop wants to schedule a day or two to do a “work day” there, cleaning, painting, fixing things up, and so on. At a committee meeting, the question came up: Can we use this as a service project for Second Class, Star, and Life (not Eagle)?We hesitated, because this was our original meeting place (we have no ownership of the building—the owner donates the space to us). I think it should be done just because this is what Scouts do; not for some advancement requirement. Others think the Scouts should get something more out of it than just a good turn. What do you think? (John Frazier, CC, Greater Pittsburgh Council, PA)

The idea itself is wonderful, appropriate, and in no way conflicts with the fundamental of giving service to others. This is not a BSA or BSA-affiliated building and neither is the owner, so even if it were an Eagle project, it’s still OK, assuming you’re doing more than simply rehabilitating only the troop’s storage area.

As for “service hours,” this would certainly qualify (in fact, for future considerations, except for Eagle projects, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with service to Scouting—after all, isn’t this what the OA does, when they go to your council’s camp for service weekends?!).

Now, consider this wrinkle… Instead of announcing, “Show up and get service hour credit,” which is the usual approach, how about simply saying, “We’re going to do this because this is one of the things Scouts do,” but, quietly keep track of who shows up and for how long, and then, when it’s time for a Second Class, Star, or Life Scoutmaster’s conference, tell the Scout, Oh, by the way, remember how we worked on that building and you were there and pitched in…Well guess what…That was your service requirement, so let’s get ready to advance a rank!

Final thought: There’s really no such thing as “just” a good turn… Heck, “just a good turn” brought Scouting to America!

Dear Andy,

says that the Scouter’s Training Award is a set of recognitions for leaders who complete tenure, training and performance requirements in one or more of these positions: Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop Committee Chair and Troop Committee member. Is that a true statement? Can a committee member earn this award? My concern is that under the tenure requirement on the progress record for this, it says: “Complete a total of two years as a registered adult Boy Scout leader.” It’s always been my opinion that if you are a committee member you aren’t a “leader.” Am I wrong?

On a different subject, what is the BSA policy on wearing the uniform when participating in a unit fund-raiser? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

The BSA sometimes (sometimes) inter-changes words. For instance, you’ll sometimes see “Scoutmaster’s initials/signature” and other times you may see “Unit Leader’s initials/signature,” the latter covering Boy Scout teams as well as troops, and also VENTURING LEADERS, FOR Venturers who are qualified to continue pursuing Boy Scout advancements. This is probably one of those instances, when yes, a committee member can certainly earn that training award (and we’d encourage ’em to do so!), so the better language might actually be “Boy Scout Volunteer’s Training Award.” Now, if you can find me a book—any book—that has absolutely no typos or punctuation errors, I’ll take the BSA to task; otherwise, let’s just encourage troop folks to record and submit their progress records and earn this important recognition! The BSA informs us that uniforms may be worn when carrying out a council-wide, council-sponsored fund-raiser (Trail’s End Popcorn, for instance); uniforms may not be worn when conducting unit-level fund-raisers. (Source: BSA Insignia Guide)

Dear Andy,

When I was an Explorer in the ‘60s (I’d already earned my Eagle as a Boy Scout), I don’t remember wearing the Eagle square knot on my green shirt, but I do remember wearing the actual Eagle Badge. Wasn’t there an Explorer emblem on the left pocket that prevented one from wearing a rank badge? I’m redoing my old uniform for demonstration purposes and wondered if the Eagle square knot should have been worn over the left pocket. (M. David Pottorff, Gulfstream Council, FL)

Up to 1959, so long as we were under age 18, we Explorers could wear the oval Eagle badge on our left pocket, slightly above-center, to leave room for the Explorer ranks—Apprentice, Bronze, Gold, and Silver—the most current worn below the Eagle badge on the same left pocket. This, however, only applied to Eagle being worn above the Explorer rank, as I recall; all other Boy Scout ranks were worn below the Explorer rank badge. Refer to page 11 of the Explorer Manual, 1955 Revision.

Then, beginning in 1959, the Explorer program changed and all prior Explorer ranks and ratings disappeared. The new “Circle-V” Explorer emblem—replacing the classic wings-anchor-compass badge—was indeed worn on the left shirt pocket, leaving no room for any rank badge of any kind.

Dear Andy,

We have a question about how the flags are to be brought in, for opening ceremonies. Traditionally we bring them in with the American flag on its own right, but our concern is the “cross the colors” part, when the star-and-stripes moves from its right from the audience to its right from the “stage,” which, in theater terms, in now “house left.” Does the American flag cross first, before the unit or other flag, and is this documented anywhere? (Steve Lowman, CC, Central Wyoming Council)

In the procedure you describe, the American flag always leads. Check the U.S. Flag Code for details and more information.

Dear Andy,

Last year, a group of us created a brand-new Cub Scout pack. It was formed from the ground up, with the blood, sweat and tears (not too many tears!) of our neighborhood’s parents. We’ve been rocking along and things have been going swell. The other day my wife, our pack’s Committee Chair, was at our local council’s Scout store and discovered the new Founder’s Bar—a badge that can be worn by all charter members of a unit—and she bought a batch of them for all the people who were there are the beginning and got us off the ground. But now our Scout Executive is telling us that our pack number was used many years ago by a long-defunct pack in the council—this pack was dissolved so long ago that there’s no written record of it, even in the council’s archives, but word-of-mouth is saying it did exist at one time (some of the neighborhood’s “old guard” have some memory of it, but no one who may have been involved in it is still around). Anyway, we’re being told that, since the pack number’s not “new” we’re not allowed to wear the Founder’s Bar. Is this correct? (David Scott, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

First, go here to see the exact requirements for wearing the newly established Founders Bar: My own opinion—which, with a buck or two will get you a cuppa coffee somewhere—is that in light of the distance in years and memory, and absence of written documentation, between that former pack and your pack, you can and should be considered a new pack and legitimately qualify to wear the Founders Bar, especially since you have indeed founded a new unit and have not revitalized an “old” unit (that few can remember ever having existed in the first place).

Further, it’s only the council’s arbitrary assignment of a number that’s made this an issue, so if the number continues to be used as a road-block, then get a “virgin” number and convert to it, thereby making you a truly new unit. This would handily eliminate the pedants.

Hi Andy,

If a Scouting unit goes to another sponsoring organization, what stays with the original sponsor and what can the unit take with them? Does the unit number, checking account, and savings account stay? Does any equipment stay? Please help me find in the BSA rules where it’s stated. We have an issue with one a unit changing sponsors.Also, does the unit have to inform the sponsor in writing that they’re leaving? Does the unit changing sponsors lose its tenure? (Name & Council Withheld)

When a Scouting unit attempts to pull out from under its sponsor in the proverbial middle of the night, by “breaking camp,” in effect, and taking its gear along with it, something’s seriously wrong. A change like this should be happening in the clear light of day, with all parties involved and seeking the best possible outcome; not under cover of darkness, figuratively if not literally. You see, there’s no real “them versus us” line of demarcation, because the sponsor and its Scouting unit are one and the same… There is no Scouting unit without the sponsor!

The people involved in this situation need to immediately establish contact with the District Executive serving their area. The D.E. will be able to offer advice as to the best course of action—if, in fact, action is required at all, because it’s often a failure to share the same vision that causes rifts such as you’re observing at the moment.

The hard facts are these: The sponsoring organization is chartered by the BSA to operate one or more Scouting units and by right of that charter owns the unit and all of its assets—funds, equipment, flags, etc.—which cannot legitimately be removed from the premises without permission from that chartered organization. In the same vein, the unit does not have the authority to disband itself or move itself; only the chartered organization can disband it and allow its assets to be removed from its ownership and control. The members of the unit—youth and adult volunteers—do have the right to resign en masse and then to join another unit or collectively ask another organization if it would be willing to sponsor a Scouting unit, but in this latter situation they’ll be obviously starting from scratch, with no assets or equipment, no unit number (until assigned by the council to the new chartered organization), and so on. Any attempt to remove a unit’s assets or equipment from the current sponsor’s premises, without their agreement to this, is tantamount to theft. This is why you need to engage your D.E., who can help to minimize the emotional and legal toll that a surreptitious move would likely (and justifiably) incur.

Dear Andy,

Is there any sort of specific award or recognition for chartered organizations that host the full set of units—a Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout troop, and Venturing crew? In our district, we have two organizations that do this, and we’d like to honor them in some way. (Michael Courtright, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

No, there isn’t, but this in no way prohibits a district or council from creating one and inviting the heads of these chartered organizations to the council or district’s annual meeting, for a special presentation! There are lots of certificates available at your local Scout shop! Or, just make one up and frame it. It’s a wonderful idea!

Dear Andy,

For the Commissioner’s Arrowhead Honor award, is the badge for this worn only by Commissioners, or is it one of those that, once you’ve earned it, you can wear it regardless of your current position? (Richard Barden, Glacier’s Edge Council, WI)

The Arrowhead Honor badge (that silver arrowhead) is worn only by Commissioners. It’s an accompaniment to whatever Commissioner emblem one is wearing. Anyone who’s no longer a Commissioner is expected to remove the arrowhead along with the Commissioner emblem, so says the BSA.

Hello Andy,

I’m really stumped on this one… My son’s troop recently had a change in Scoutmasters. The new Scoutmaster had the position in the past, lost it for reasons of angst, but recently the quickest one to raise his hand to take the position back. As for myself, I’ve been on both the professional and volunteer sides for some several decades now. I’m trying to guide this troop and not dictate. In the course of gentle guiding I’ve needed to bring in outside resources to show why the methods being used aren’t the ones the BSA intends or prescribes. (It seems the troop has an underlying legalistic tone and attitude, so unless I can point to written BSA policies, they don’t buy in.)

So, with that background, here’s the situation: The Scoutmaster believes he’s the final sign-off on all merit badge. Unless he sees each Scout’s work, based on the worksheets from the website,, he won’t approve the merit badge even though it’s been signed off by a registered Merit Badge Counselor. His basis for this approach is that on each “blue card” there’s a place for the unit leader to sign below the counselor name in the middle section of the “applicant’s record” segment.

Frankly, when I heard this I was floored! But I knew I couldn’t counter this until I’d done some research, which I have before writing to you. I know that this smacks of re-testing and that that’s not permitted, but I don’t know where to find it in writing.

(Name & Council Withheld)

Here we go… Let’s start by looking at the inside of the first of the three “blue card” segments… What does it say, in bold print, right at the bottom? That’s right, it says, “Applicant will turn in this portion to his unit leader for record posting” (bold by BSA, underline mine). Doesn’t say “for re-testing.” Simply record-posting. End of story.

Here’s point number two, found in BSA Advancement Rules and Regulations, Article X., Section 1, Clause 13. It states: “The responsibility for merit badges shall rest with the merit badge counselor…The merit badge counselor shall prepare and qualify youth members (of the BSA).” (Source: Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures [Catalog No. 33088], page 17.)

OK, that “solves” the merit badge nonsense. But it doesn’t solve the problem of a little tin god of a Scoutmaster, who ought to be taken out and shot. Right now.

Hello Andy,

Our troop has a Life Scout who’s been suspected of doing illegal substances. According to talk from the Scouts, he telephoned one of his troop-mates last New Year’s Eve to brag that he “was wasted.” He’s also been seen smoking (not at a Scout activity or in uniform). As Committee Chair, I have real concerns about the moral character of this Scout to advance to Eagle Rank. Do I have grounds for refusing to sign his Eagle application and Eagle Project workbook on account of behavior and not living the Scout Oath and Law, and also not adhering to the BSA substance abuse policy? Please advise. (Name & Council Withheld)

What you seem to have by way of evidence is, at this point, tenuous at best: It’s hearsay, and it’s old. Perhaps some quiet investigation is in order. Can you convert the “talk from the Scouts” into written statements, taken on private, individual bases, from by the Scouts who are doing the “talking”? This way, they’ll be obligated to commit to written statements just what it is that they observed. This may be worth doing so that you have a written record and can separate out commentary such as “He was acting funny…” from “He was carrying a bottle with a Jack Daniel’s label on it and he was drinking from it,” because obviously there’s a huge difference between these two observations and you need to know what it is you’re actually dealing with. While you’re working on this, when is the last time the Scoutmaster conferenced with this Scout about his home life, how things are going in school, are his parents employed or has one or both been laid off, who is he getting along with, any brothers or sisters that are bugging him at the moment, is he still on his high school sports team and playing the position he likes? Then: How is he dealing with all of the pressures on him right now, even to the point of observing that some young men in his situation look for short-term outlets, like alcohol or other substances, and how’s he coping with this (especially since they’re so easily available at his high school)? In other words, talk with him to find out what’s going on, rather than relying on hearsay.

Right now, this isn’t about rank advancement, this is about a boy who may be in trouble. While you’re not professionals in this area and aren’t expected to be, the better you know what’s actually going on, the better you’ll be able to guide him to a path that might help him through whatever’s the problem.

You definitely want to keep him in the troop, because this may be the one safe place he’s found. Don’t be judgmental; be helpful, in the spirit of the older, wiser brother.

Remember this: This may be nothing, or it may be a series of cries for help. Try to get to the root of the problem, and I’ll bet that the prescription reveals itself.

If, on the other hand, there are definite substance abuse problems operating here, then you’re unquestionably obligated to report this and obtain outside help from appropriate professionals and/or agencies.

Hi Andy,

I’ve heard about the practice of cutting a corner off a Scout’s Firem’n Chit or Totin’ Chip card for a violation of the safety rules written on each card. I was discussing this with another Scouter, and he astutelysaid, “Let’s find that officially written down somewhere.” Well, we’ve spent some time researching this and can’t find anything official. If it’s not a part of the BSA program for these two cards, we don’t want to start doing it, yet we see corner-cutting described on many troop websites, as a standard procedure. Are we missing something here? (Blair Piotrowski, ASM, Blackhawk Area Council, IL)

No, you’re not missing a thing. There’s absolutely no BSA-endorsed or prescribed procedure for lopping corners off any Scout’s card of any kind. Now that’s not to say a Totin’ Chip or Firem’n Chit can’t be “revoked” (actually, good-naturedly “threatened” to be revoked, but never actually carried out) until the “transgressing” Scout reaffirms his understanding of knife or fire safety—all done with good spirit and with the intent of providing a lesson; not inflicting a punishment. Tearing corners off of stuff is risking emotional abuse and is unnecessary in a Scout troop that has adult volunteers who understand that teen-aged boys sometimes mess up, and Scouting gives boys a safe place to make mistakes and fix ‘em themselves!

Hello Andy,

If you could change one thing about the Scouting program today, what would it be…? Would you re-introduce a past program,uniform component, old handbook, what?

If you could go back in time to any pointin the history of the BSA, would there be someone that you’dmost like to speakwith or interview? (Keith Westergaard)

Hmmm… Interesting questions… Let’s have at it…

First, let’s sing again. I miss the singing maybe most of all. We used to sing all the time… not just at campfires on the last night. They were more than “follow me” songs and more than shouting or chanting—they actually had melody lines (sometimes even two-part harmonies!) and verses and choruses and we knew all the words because we sang ’em all the time. We weren’t embarrassed to sing, either. We didn’t sing because we were told we had to, we sang because we enjoyed it! I first started learning “camp songs” at YMCA camps, beginning at age eight, then Scout camps at 11 and beyond, and learned more and more over the next 14 years, as I grew from camper to staffer. Now here’s the remarkable part: I sill know all the words to every single song, some even though it’s been over four decades sing I last sang them. Isn’t there something to be said for that?

(At the final arena show of the 2010 Jamboree, near the end, a lovely lilting voice began to sing “On My Honor.” I stood and sang along, knowing every word and nuance… I was the only person in earshot who did this. In an earlier time, everyone in the audience would have joined in. I miss that time.)

Second, let’s put the boys themselves back in charge of Boy Scouting. Too many times nowadays, I hear about camping trips that have more parents along than Scouts. Or high adventure trips to places like Seabase and the Grand Canyon that have ten Scouts and eight dads (or dads and moms). What happened to boys being boys and figuring stuff out for themselves? Philmont still gets it right, with just two adults along on trek crews, but this is pretty rare. Regular Scout camps are filled with too many dads, as if they’re doing more babysitting than staying out of the way. Patrol hikes? Largely a thing of the past, and more’s the loss. Eagle projects with a bunch of adults there to run the power tools? Why not use hand tools and leave the power tools, and the dads, home? “I try to get the PLC to make decisions” is a constant cry… Yet, “trying” isn’t what this is all about. Boys can be given the freedom to mess up, and no lives will be lost. Then, after they figure out what they’re doing wrong, they’ll self-adjust (with guidance no heavier than a feather) and start getting it right. We parents talk all the time about how smart and resourceful and mature our sons are, and then we treat them like they’re still in diapers. The best Scoutmaster I ever had wasn’t out in front of the troop all the time; he did the Tenderfoot investiture ceremony, conferenced with us Scouts, did the Scoutmaster’s minute at every troop meeting, and the rest of the time he made like wallpaper—we knew he was there, and we were safe, but he never butted in. We ran the troop he’d trained us to run. Cool!

Last one: Let’s learn how to smarten up our uniforms and march again, instead of showing up at parades and looking like a bunch o’ ragamuffins who don’t know left foot from right. We can do this without becoming militaristic drill teams… Basics, like cadence counting, right and left column and flank turns, and a few other maneuvers will have us looking sharp again, and feeling proud to be out there in public, in uniform! (There’s nothing cooler to do, or to see, than a troop of Scouts sharply executing a double-to-the-rear march! Ya-Hoo!)

I’d bring back…

Neckerchiefs and hand-made slides, and knee socks. There are three things that everywhere around the world except here in the U.S. say “Scout”: Knee socks, “Smokey Bear” hats, and neckerchiefs. When we wear a neckerchief, we look like Scouts; not the military. Neckerchiefs identify us as being members of a specific troop. Neckerchiefs can be used for all sorts of things, like signal flags, splint-holders, slings, bandannas, bandages, and the list goes on… Hand-made slides, because a boy won’t lose something he’s crafted or carved. Why knee socks? Simple: They’re both protective and cool, and they’re unique to Scouting.

I’d also bring back Morse code. It’s cool to know how to send a message that only “we” know! Like: _… . ._ _. ._. . ._ _. ._ ._. . _.. !

Finally, I’d bring back Boy Scout rank pins, in place of rank badges, so that they can be pinned on as soon as a Scout completes his board of review and there’s no more delay while waiting for needle-and-thread (or that gluey stuff—what sort of wuss glues his badges on, anyway).

I’d also get rid of all those superfluous patches, for everything from “Totin’ Chip” to “Pinewood Derby” to “I Pooped Today.” Why? Because they communicate the wrong message: Do something=get a badge. How about doing something for the fun of doing it, and maybe because we’re Scouts!

I’d also get rid of the words on position badges. Remember how, back in the day, we actually learned what each badge stood for, based on its design and color combination? Scoutmaster was a green background with a silver “First Class” emblem; ASM was the same but with a gold emblem, District Commissioner was different—by color combination—from ADC, and so on. Patrol Leaders were two horizontal green bars; Assistants wore one. All of this meant that we actually needed to learn (and took pride in learning!) what each meant and the “logic” of the colors and symbols, and it was pretty cool! It also gave Scouting a mystique and specialness that’s been considerably lost along the way.

I’d like to meet and talk with…

Our first (and only) Chief Scout-Citizen, Theodore Roosevelt; and “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, in that order

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)

(August 19, 2010 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2010)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter..


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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